Tracy Beaker is back after 27 years and now she's a single mum
PUBLISHED: 11:36 14 March 2018 | UPDATED: 11:36 14 March 2018
Tracy Beaker is coming back: as a single mum living on a ‘rough’ housing estate. Millions of us grew up reading Jacqueline Wilson’s books and watching Tracy’s exploits on CBBC. But just what will grown-up Tracy be like?
For the vast majority of their lives, my children have been hugely unimpressed that I’m a reporter.
News that I had interviewed David Cameron, seen a freshly-excavated World War One tank which is the only one of its kind in existence, had reported from Ground Zero in New York, that I’d met royalty (both actual and pop culture), that I had been at the highest-profile court cases in Britain – the list goes on – meant nothing to them.
But then there are the times when having a reporter as a mother pays off: and for my eldest, Ruby, one of these occasions was when author Jacqueline Wilson came to Norwich to promote a book and I somehow hoodwinked her publicist into letting my daughter and her friend interview her rather than do the job myself (slave labour: I got paid, they didn’t).
When it came to the interview, Ruby knew more about JW than she knew about herself – if my daughter was ever on Mastermind, her expert subject would be the author, her books and, of course, the long-running TV show based on Wilson’s book, Tracy Beaker.
It’s 27 years since Wilson first wrote about a 10-year-old firecracker growing up in a care home she called ‘the dumping ground’ in The Story of Tracy Beaker. Published at a time when there was a huge amount of stigma attached to being ‘in care’, Wilson struggled to sell the rights to the book because Beaker wasn’t seen as ‘aspirational’.
Ruby texted me on my birthday to give me an extra present: Wilson is writing a brand new book – My Mum Tracy Beaker - which stars the brave kid who survived against the odds – and who is now in her 30s and a single mother to Jess, who is handily the age of Wilson’s key demographic, aged seven to 11.
I say ‘key demographic’: on my home TV there’s a series link which still records every episode of Tracy Beaker to this day. When I asked Ruby if it was time for me to cancel it, she reacted as if I’d suggested bumping off Father Christmas and burying him under the patio: Ruby is 20 in a matter of weeks.
“I have to get this when it comes out!” she said, of the book, “AMAZING!”
The new book will be released in October and narrated from the perspective of Jess and aimed at younger readers and their mothers who remember Tracy from the first time round.
“It’s stimulating to think about how people develop as they get older,” she said. “Tracy has been a character that’s haunted me. She’s the sort of person who sticks in your mind. When I realised just how long ago it was since I wrote the first Tracy Beaker book, I thought: if we were in real time, Tracy herself would be in her 30s. And I’ve always thought that, even though Tracy had lots of problems in her life and a pretty rubbish mum who was never there for her, Tracy herself would be a good mum, no matter what.
“A knowing teenager or adult will read something and understand it while it will go straight over Jess’s head.”
The new book will see Tracy in a housing association flat on a rough housing estate in modern-day London, bringing up Jess on her own. Having just lost her job, Tracy struggles to raise her child in London, an expensive city for anyone, let alone someone with no cash.
“How many young women without much education earn enough, with a daughter, to be able to buy their own home in London today? Being Tracy, she wants to be independent but with a child, how can she be? So she’s having to scratch around.”
Although Tracy (particularly the television series) wasn’t as loved by parents as it was by children – which is entirely the right thing for a children’s TV programme to do (also see Peppa Pig on this note) – Wilson’s work did more for children living in foster care than any public relations campaign could ever dream of.
It gave them a voice. It cast them in a different light. It actually did make them aspirational. When I asked my daughter why she loved Tracy Beaker, both on the page and on the screen, she said: “She made living in a care home look like fun. She never went to school and it always looked like a cool place to be.”
Imagine a child saying that about Oliver Twist.
Six reasons why the Tracy Beaker TV show was brilliant
It broke new ground: It was about different kinds of families and how not everyone was lucky enough to have both parents living with them or, indeed, a home of their own.
It gave children in foster care a voice: Tracy Beaker broke the mould when it came to preconceptions about cared for children – while it did show sadness and children who felt abandoned, it also showed that there was hope. And more than hope: there were midnight feasts practically seven days a week.
It taught young women to fight for what they thought was right: Tracy kicked against the system and always stood up for the underdog, justice and what was right. That she did it while occasionally being incredibly rude was another matter.
It made us realise that foster care wasn’t necessarily what we thought it was: We thought it was like prison for children and surveys at the time of publication showed that other youngsters had thought their peers were in foster care because they’d “done something wrong”.
It made children think about difficult subject matters: Loss, love, loneliness, isolation and the awful feeling of not being quite good enough: all these issues were tackled with typically Wilson-esque openness.
It gave CBBC a shot in the arm: Tracy Beaker came on air at a time when the offshoot channel had been given the cash to compete against rival channels such as Disney and Nickelodeon – it mixed animation with live action was originally aired twice a week like a soap opera for children. And Dani Harmer simply IS Tracy Beaker - Nick Sharratt couldn’t have drawn a better actress for the job.